How to Make a Cream Tart Cake
A cream tart cake is a beautifully decorated pastry that can be made into virtually any shape including letters or numbers to celebrate any occasion. These tarts are typically decorated with a variety of fruits, macarons, and flowers for a show-stopping alternative to a layer cake.
This tutorial is developed in partnership with Nielsen-Massey Vanillas and the “Better Your Bake” campaign. Thank you for being supportive of me working with brands I use and love.
Cream Tart Overview
Cream tart, letter tart, alphabet tart, cream tart cake…. Whatever you call it, it is all the rage these days. And it’s no surprise! These beautiful tarts are perfect to celebrate any occasion!
When I was first learning to bake I would have never attempted a recipe like this because visually it looks very complicated. But over the years I realized that once I understood the basics of baking, trying a new recipe can be such a great way to relax. This is why I am excited to announce that this recipe tutorial was developed in partnership with Nielsen-Massey Vanillas and the “Better Your Bake” campaign.
Better Your Bake
“Better Your Bake” is designed to help you master basic techniques so that you can achieve all of the mindful benefits of baking. To help you achieve this, Nielsen-Massey Vanillas has unveiled a six-part video series that breaks down basic baking techniques on BetterYourBake.com. Each technique includes a step-by-step video, pro-tips from their team and delicious, seasonal recipes.
Today’s tutorial utilizes several basic baking tips. These tips will not only help you become a pro at making cream tarts, but will simplify all of your everyday baking!
How to Make a Cream Tart Cake
A decorated cream tart, also known as a cream tart cake, is made up of a butter cookie base and is typically piped with buttercream. The tart is then decorated with a variety of berries and often things like edible flowers, and macarons.
Step 1: Make the Tart Dough
To make the tart crust, we are going to use a shortbread cookie dough with the addition of egg yolks. The yolks will add some stability to our cookie so that it does not break easily.
This brings us to our first baking tip: How to Separate Eggs. To separate your eggs, start with clean hands and then hold the egg firmly in your dominant hand. Tap it gently on a flat surface and then remove one half of the shell, keeping the egg in the other half. Pour the egg into your hand, letting the white drip through your fingers and keeping the yolk in your hand.
Once the white drips through, place the yolks in a separate bowl and set them aside. We will need them later for our frosting.
To make the tart dough, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Next add the egg yolks and the vanilla. I’m using the Nielsen-Massey Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract, which is a beautiful all-purpose vanilla extract. Finally, mix in the salt and the flour until just combined. You don’t want to over-mix the dough or your finished tart can become dry and tough.
Step 2: Roll out the Tart Dough
Once your dough is mixed together, divide it into four equal pieces to roll it out. This brings us to our next baking tip: How to Roll Cookie Dough.
The best way to roll out cookie dough is between two pieces of parchment paper. This method requires no additional flour, creating less mess and keeping our cookies more tender.
To use this method, place your dough between the two pieces of parchment paper and then use a rolling pin to start at the center and roll away from your body. Rotate the dough 90 degrees every few rolls to ensure even rolling.
Step 3: Cut out Your Tart Shapes
Once the dough is rolled out to about ¼-inch thick, pop it in the refrigerator to firm up for about 20 minutes before cutting.
Once your dough is slightly chilled, you can cut out your tart shapes. This dough is enough for two layers of two shapes, about 5 inches x 7 inches in size. I am cutting out an N and an M for “Nielsen-Massey.”
Lay your template over the dough and use a butter knife to trace the shape. Remove the excess dough and then transfer the shape on the parchment onto baking sheets to bake.
Step 4: Bake Your Tart Shapes
When your cookies are lightly browned on the edges and set in the center, remove from the oven to cool completely on the baking sheets before decorating.
Step 5: Make the Buttercream
For our letter cream tart cake we are going to make a Swiss Meringue Buttercream. This style of buttercream is perfect because it uses the egg whites saved from making the crust. I also love meringue buttercream because it is silky smooth and less sweet which really allows the vanilla to shine through.
To start the buttercream, we will first whisk the egg whites with some granulated sugar. In order to do this, let’s discuss the next Better Your Bake tip: How to Whisk.
The best way to whisk is to move from side-to-side rather than in a circular motion. This motion creates the most shear force and is the best way to fully incorporate your ingredients.
After the whites and sugar are mixed together, we are going to move the bowl to the stove top over a hot water bath. Gently whisk this egg white/sugar mixture over the water bath until it reaches 160 F (71 C). Once the mixture is heated, we can move it to the stand mixer to finish making the buttercream.
Whip the egg whites/sugar at high speed until you reach stiff peaks and the mixture cools down to room temperature. Next, beat in the salt and the butter. Lastly, I am adding in some Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste. This not only gives our buttercream a beautiful vanilla flavor, but it also adds a lovely visual due to the vanilla bean specks present in the paste.
Now that we’ve made our buttercream, we can fill a piping bag and get ready to decorate our letter tart. And this brings us to our last Better Your Bake tip for this tutorial: How to Fill a Homemade Pastry Bag for Piping.
If you do not have a piping bag or piping tips, you can easily create one with a quart size resealable plastic bag. We need a round tip for our tart, so you will want to cut off the corner of the bag on a curved line.
Now place the bag in a tall glass and fold the sides down. Use a rubber spatula to fill the bag with the buttercream, no more than ⅔ of the way full.
Squeeze the buttercream down towards the tip and then twist the top of the bag to seal. Now you are ready to start decorating your tart!
How to Decorate a Cream Tart Cake
To start, you want to do a single layer of dollops all along the bottom layer of the tart. To create a dollop, hover the piping bag over the tart crust holding it vertically. Apply even pressure and then release as you pull up.
Once the bottom layer is filled in, carefully place the top tart crusts on and fill it in with dollops of buttercream as well. Now comes the fun part – all the toppings!
I like to use a variety of berries to decorate my tart: strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. I also love to add a few edible fresh flowers as well as some macarons to really elevate the look. But you can keep it simple with the berries or decorate it anyway you like.
Start by placing your biggest decorations first.
Then you can fill in with your smaller items. I prefer not to overload the top and let a good amount of buttercream peak through.
These tarts are so perfect for any celebration. You can make them into someone’s initials, use numbers to celebrate a monumental birthday, or even create a shape like a heart or a wreath to celebrate a holiday. The possibilities are endless!
I want to thank Nielsen-Massey Vanillas for partnering with me on this tutorial. Make sure you head over to the Better Your Bake Website and follow Nielsen-Massey on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter for more baking tips and additional recipe inspiration.
For the Cookie Dough
- 2 sticks (8 oz, 220 gr) unsalted butter, room temperature
- ½ cup (3.5 oz, 100 gr) granulated sugar
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 ½ tsp Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- 2 ¾ cups (11.8 oz, 330 gr) all-purpose flour
For the Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 6 large egg whites
- 2 cups (14 oz, 395 gr) granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- 4 sticks (1 lb, 440 gr) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 TBSP (15 ml) Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste
- Fresh berries: strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries
- Edible flowers (*optional)
- Macarons (*optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 F (160 C).
In the bowl of your stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy- about 3 minutes.
Add the egg yolks (save the whites for your frosting) and the vanilla extract into the mixing bowl and mix until just combined. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Add the salt and the all-purpose flour into the bowl and mix until it is incorporated. Do not over-mix your dough.
Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll it out between two pieces of parchment paper until it is ¼” thick. Use a template to cut out your design. This is enough dough to cut out two layers of two shapes about 5 in x 7 in (13 cm x 18 cm) in size. Use a butter knife to trace your template and remove the excess dough. Repeat with the remaining 3 pieces of dough.
Transfer the cut out dough on the parchment paper to baking sheets and bake your cookies at 325 F (160 C) for 14-18 minutes until lightly browned on the edges and set.
Allow cookies to cool completely before decorating.
Place a sauce pan on the stove with about 1 inch of water in the bottom. Place it over low heat. Place the egg whites and sugar in a glass or metal mixing bowl and whisk together until combined. Set the bowl over the pot of water over low heat. Gently whisk the whites and sugar over the hot water bath until a candy thermometer reads 160 F (71 C). Using clean hands, dip your thumb and pointer finger in the mixture and rub it between your fingers to check for graininess. If it feels grainy, continue heating until it feels smooth. This will take about 4-6 minutes.
Once the mixture reaches the right temperature and texture, pour the mixture into the bowl of your stand mixer and whip with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form and the meringue cools to room temperature. Touch the bottom of the mixing bowl to check the temperature. If you feel any warmth, continue whipping until it feels completely cooled. This will take about 5-8 minutes of mixing to cool down completely.
Mix in the salt. With the mixer running on medium speed, add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time until it is all incorporated.
Beat in the vanilla bean paste.
Transfer the frosting to a piping bag fit with a round tip. Alternatively, you can make a piping bag by cutting out the corner of a quart resealable plastic bag on a curved line.
Carefully transfer one layer of your cookies to your serving platter or onto parchment paper if you will need to transfer it after it is decorated.
Pipe dollops of frosting all around the border of the bottom layer and then fill in. To pipe a dollop, hover the bag vertically over the cookie. Apply even pressure and then release the pressure as you pull up. Fill in the rest of the cookie with more dollops.
Carefully place the top cookie layer on your tart. Pipe dollops on the top layer, filling it in completely.
To decorate your tart, start with the largest items first. I place things like macarons and strawberries first. I then fill in with flowers and the smaller berries like raspberries and blueberries.
For the Cookie Dough
For the Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Cream tarts are best eaten within 24 hours of being decorated. However, it can be stored, loosely wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.